How To Outsmart Our Monkey Mind

Updated: 2 hours ago

The first thing is the body. The body is your base, it is your ground, it is where you are grounded. To make you antagonistic towards the body is to destroy you, is to make you schizophrenic, is to make you miserable, is to create hell. You are the body. Of course you are more than the body, but that ‘more’ will follow later on. First, you are the body. The body is your basic truth, so never be against the body. ॐ Osho ॐ

The mind becomes the problem because you have taken thoughts so deeply inside you that you have forgotten completely the distance, that they are visitors, they come and go. ॐ Osho ॐ

I'll never forget the feeling that came over me when I first heard a howler monkey. I was in Costa Rica at a yoga retreat center in the middle of the rain forest. People talked about the howler monkeys but no one could explain what they sounded like. Whenever I would ask a local they would just say "when you hear it, you'll know." I had traveled to Costa Rica with the two girlfriends that I could talk into going to a vegetarian retreat. The retreat sat on 250 acres of land and they grew most of their organic food. The journey there was treacherous, and I was grateful that I took the van option instead of attempting to navigate the four hour drive with no road signs and pot holes that were sometimes larger than the street. Costa Rica produces some of the best fruit that I've ever tasted. It made me think about investors who come into the country and take its resources for a payment too low for the country to make basic repairs. My bungalow was up a steep hill. I had a hammock that overlooked the jungle and a glimpse of the ocean in the distance. There was a symphony of sound that happened each night. Some guests complained about it, but I loved the jungle sounds and would try to figure out what insects were singing me to sleep.

Then it finally happened, the howler monkeys got together for their morning warning to assert their domain over their territory - which happened to be near our eco-tourist resort. I awoke to the sound, but I can't explain it. One howler can make an extremely loud sound, but a chorus of howlers are a completely different experience. I've found videos, but there is nothing like the surround sound in real life. I felt as if they were all around me and moving closer to me. For the first few moments, I was stunned and terrified - frozen in bed. It took me a few moments to realize that it was the sound of an animal. Then I relaxed and it hit me that it must be the howlers. Later that day, we went on a beautiful jungle hike that also featured an ocean view. The guide pointed out some howler monkeys, and I was stunned again. These medium-sized monkeys were swinging from tree to tree and having a great time. How on earth could a sound that loud come from an animal that size?

Unpacking The Mess Of How We Got Here

If we think about painting a room, the hardest part is the prep work (sanding, priming, caulking, spackling, draping, taping, etc.). Once the prep work is done, the painting is a relatively simple process that takes the least amount of time. Similarly, before we learn how to outsmart our monkey minds, we'll need to dive into a true understanding of our mind and how it works, and we have to unpack our layers of psychological and social programming. It is quite a mess to untangle, but if we are willing to do the work of understanding our minds, we'll practically trip and fall into outsmarting our monkey mind. Because of the stigma around mental health, social programming and our inexperience with processing emotions, we tend to fear that once we begin to look at the "crazy" thoughts in our head, we will somehow get sucked into a vortex of "crazy" that we will not be able to escape. However, this fallacy is based on fear and ignorance of how our mind works and of our power to be the boss of our minds. Let's go back to the howler monkeys and then dive into the social programming of children.

Because I had no knowledge of the howler monkeys, my perception of them was formed in my mind based on their sound. I envisioned something that looked like a great gorilla, but larger. I was completely wrong. In a similar way, the thoughts in our mind can torment us with noise that is so inaudibly loud, that we begin to take them seriously. We start believing the thoughts and allowing them to drive our actions. Instead of directing our minds to work for us, we become its servant. This is because we have not been taught about the characteristics of our mind, its mysterious ways of being or how to train it to work for us. The term "monkey mind" comes to us from Buddhism and compares our thoughts to restless monkeys who swing from tree to tree. Inside our head it could "sound" something like this:

I forgot to get onions. I was right at the store and didn't get the onions - so stupid! How could I forget? I had a list. I can't believe that man cut in front of me in line - big as I am and he's acting like he didn't see me. I need to lose weight. Nothing fits right anymore. Is that another mole on my face? Damn! And what is that ringing in my ear? I need to get that checked out. My body is falling apart!

If we allow our minds to randomly continue swinging from thought to thought, we can literally drive up our blood pressure and cause internal inflammation by simply letting our minds run amok. How did all of this stuff get in our heads? Its origins can be found in early childhood. Let's explore some of the ways in which society trains us to disconnect from and validate that which exists outside of ourselves. I have always said that if I ever had children, I would world school them because conventional school makes no sense to me.

Children love to explore, but we force them to sit still for at least 45 minutes at a time in classrooms while we pound facts into their head, often without relevant context. We teach children about facts and figures, but we don't teach them about themselves - how their minds work, how to accept responsibility for and nourish themselves through the consequences of their actions, why they think the way they do, how to observe what is happening in their bodies (including a holistic discussion about sexual health), how to handle the overwhelming feelings that they may face or move through obstacles, how to express what they need, etc. Then when they act out, our response is punitive instead of restorative. When we teach them about other cultures, we don't encourage them to understand the culture from its perspective, appreciate its differences or celebrate our similarities. Instead, we learn about "others" from the perspective that how we view the world is superior to other cultures. When we teach them facts and figures they are not based on the knowledge of/connection with the self.

“Psychology” has for many decades been seen as a universal monolithic Western “science.” Being a Western construction, this “science” has always claimed supremacy over other forms of knowing and knowledge systems. Subsequently, Western “science” has become a partial representation of human experiences. Western science is constructed out of experiences and conventions of one sector of the human race, denying other forms of experiences and knowledge systems existence and expression. This “science” has established itself as the “absolute human norm” through which the whole world has to be understood and experienced. Dr. Lesiba Baloyi

Foundational Steps To Reforming Education

I started a project in Sacramento that I was unable to finish because I couldn't get enough funding or buy in from schools. But, I found a few interested community leaders who offered after school programs. I trained their teachers to revise their teaching style. Instead of a question like: Sarah has five apples, if she gives two apples away, how many does she have left? I would instruct them to say/write something like: Stand up, turn to your right and give a high five to the student next to you. When you give a high five, how many fingers to you see? Now, turn to your left and give the OK symbol to the student on your left. How many fingers to you have to bend when you make the OK symbol? They would then guide the students through understanding that in order to make the OK symbol they have to use two of their fingers, which is a subtraction. I encouraged them to grow herbs in the classroom and we created a few simple questions to check the students' sentence construction like giving them a piece of rosemary to smell and asking them to write down what they felt when they smelled it or what it looked like to them. These types of questions get the students out of their chairs, encourages them to think critically and builds upon their self-knowledge. In this way, their ability to think, create and contribute knowledge is cultivated and affirmed. No matter how young the child is, they are taught that they know something and can help others understand what they know.

Are Children Really Hyperactive?

I've worked with a lot of children, and I'm amazed at how their teachers and parents are so quick to brand them as hyperactive. Children are tactile explorers. In the holistic world, we don't put children in a box and slap a label on them because they are so adaptable. Their actions mirror our behaviors and subconscious energies (something that we don't usually consider when we are judging them). I was once asked to teach Qigong to a group of 90 children between the ages of four and 16. It was an intriguing challenge for me to figure out how to get them all engaged. Before I could get the first sentence out of my mouth, a five year old Black boy ran up to me and started jumping up and down to get my attention. I immediately shifted my teaching style. First, I squatted to put myself at his level, looked into his eyes, thanked him for having the courage to come up to me, and asked him to be my helper. I congratulated him for being the first person to assist me. I then addressed the crowd and said that I had room for two more. Would anyone else like to help? As I gave the initial instructions, I held his hands to help him move his body and together we demonstrated the movements. He quickly settled down and began to focus because I gave him something to do.

Qigong moves very slow, but half of the kids were fidgety because they were so young. I ignored their fidgeting, and the self-consciousness of the teens who were lined against the wall, and focused on the demo. I started the music and we began to practice. I wish I had someone to record what happened next. I started the Qigong walking style form and the middle school kids mimicked my movements. With my reinforcement, they quickly shifted away from looking at me and began to create their own movements. Then the younger kids, began to slow their movements down. The teens were still too self-conscious, but in time, they stopped looking at each other and began to connect with themselves.

After about 15 minutes everyone was in sync with the slow movements, the energy in the room and the practice. During the last five minutes, the organizer peeked into the room and was astonished to see everyone moving in slow motion. Were these kids hyperactive? Here's how the alchemy of Qigong gradually brought everyone together:

☯ Yin/yang talk, full body drumming and internal power warm up alchemy - right before I start

the slow moving Qigong practice, I explain the concept of yin and yang as interdependent